On the eve of International Women's Day (March 8), Catherine Britton—a.k.a DJ-producer Cassy—confesses she's not entirely sure how to feel about the occasion. "It's a very difficult day, because what does that actually mean?" she asks THUMP over Skype from her home in Vienna. "Does the world need to have a Woman's Day?"
Established in the early 1900s, IWD was proposed as a means to promote equal rights for women and to protest against discrimination in the workplace, both of which remain crucial issues over a century later. Gender representation in electronic music, specifically, has for years been dissected and re-dissected to the point where, like Cassy, many female artists are visibly tired of talking about what it's like being a woman in this industry and just want their work to speak for itself.
"What's most important for me is this: Yes, I am a woman, and it's part of who I am," says Cassy. "I could not be a man, and I would not want to be a man. It's great that I can do things the way I do because I'm a woman and not because I'm a guy. I probably have to have more balls sometimes; this is also why maybe I got this far—if you want to call it far."
"Far" is actually a pretty accurate assessment then it comes to the half-Austrian, half-Barbadian artist, whose resume is undoubtedly coveted by a lot of DJs regardless of gender. A master of house and techno that swells with soul, she's held residencies at some of the world's top clubs, including Panorama Bar, Rex Club, Trouw, Cocoon Ibiza, and most recently, DC10's Circoloco party. Last June, she made her Essential Mix debut and released her debut album Donna, whose minimal-techno missive brims with Cassy's own airy vocals.
With those credentials, it should come as no surprise that Cassy has spent countless hours mixing on the decks, beginning as far back as the late 90s at Vienna club Flex. While she emphatically doesn't consider herself a record collector—she sees vinyl more as functional tools than as treasured items—the DJ's decade-spanning sets make her a shoo-in for our Crate Expectations series. Read on to learn about some of her first records, her love of Chaka Khan, and the advice she has for aspiring female artists.
THUMP: What was the first record you remember that really resonated with you?
Cassy: I guess the first records were like fairytales. I listened to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty. The first record I bought on my own was Madness's One Step Beyond.
Was it something that you saw and it attracted you, in terms of the artwork, or was it something that you walked in already knowing that artist and thinking, 'I want that?'
I think it was both. My mother's best friend's son was older than me, like six years older, and would often listen to music. I think I saw what he was listening to, and also liked the artwork. I liked that [the lyrics were in] English, too.
I understand you started out with Electric Indigo, Acid Maria, and Miss Kittin as your mentors. Can you tell me about how they and their music influenced you?
With Miss Kittin, it was definitely in her productions. She had a very unique way of DJing, producing music, seeing how it works, and dealing with things. With Electric Indigo and Acid Maria, it was the way they DJed and the music they picked, as well as their personalities. They were very unique and a lot of fun to hang out with, too. They were also quite deep-thinkers, like Acid Maria, who was also studying art at the same time. They were very multifaceted women, and all very interesting.
Do you consider yourself as much of a digger or collector as you were when you were starting out?
No, I don't consider myself a record collector whatsoever. I don't care what my records look like. For me, records are tools. I play them and sometimes [when I can't find the record i'm looking for], I buy another copy so I can play them again. I don't play a lot of vinyl at the moment, unfortunately, but I hope to soon again. Yeah, I'm not a collector at all. I really don't care to have rare records or something.
But if you DJ records, they're like tools: they're going to look shit and they're going to sound crap at some point and it's best you have two copies of one, or three, or maybe more of the ones you really like, so you can save one to sound good and to use the other ones to play them out. Because when you DJ, you can't go in the club and hope that nothing will happen to your records.
Was there a record you thought you wouldn't be able to get away with playing and it turns out the crowd just loved it?I think the best time I had playing DC 10 ever was when I played New Year's Day and I could play for a little bit longer. I remember I played the remix of Ricardo [Villalobos] of Shackleton on Shackleton's label. That was a record that is really difficult to play now at DC10—maybe not ten years ago. [The club's] changed a lot.
Last year you released your debut album, Donna. I understand it was born out of a challenging time period in your life.
At the time, I was moving around and not having a studio was extremely difficult. I was like, how am I going to produce it? Where am I going to produce it? I was also pregnant when I started getting into the major part of the whole process. I also wasn't enjoying making music and not liking what I did, or the ideas I had. And then things started clicking and I could trust just myself to follow that creative process again.
An album is different because obviously you're not just making tracks; you want to do something cohesive. I wanted to make an album that you can listen to in one go and it makes sense. I listened to other people's albums when I was growing up; I wanted it to be more of an album like that, not just ten techno tracks. Fair enough, it's amazing if you could do an album of just ten techno tracks, but that wouldn't have been me, so I wanted it to capture my understanding of an album.
Can you think of any good can you think of any albums that you did a really good job of telling a story?
Well, I think everyone from Prince to George Michael, Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Sade—all the people that we listened to when we were growing up. All these bands made great albums. And I think the music industry was not as vile as it is right now. I mean it probably always has been vile, but I guess artists had better support or less pressure, or were allowed to be more individual. The industry was a lot better then—artists were allowed to be themselves and not just products.
To jump off of that question, which female artists do you consider the most inspirational to you, and what are your favorite records by them?
I can't say the most; there are several. One of my favorite singers is Chaka Khan, who has the most incredible voice. I also love Sade. There's also Ella Fitzgerald, who've I've always admired, and Etta James. There's also Cindy Blackman and Sheila E, who I admired a lot as female musicians. I can't tell you one female record that was hugely influential. It'd be impossible for me to name.
I also read that you're really into theatre and film, having studied drama for a few years when you were younger. Do you have a favorite film soundtrack?
I like the soundtrack to Midnight Express. The soundtrack to American Gigolo also is really cool, or the soundtrack for Barry Lyndon, which is all classical music. And Space Odyssey 2001. I also like the soundtrack that [Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood] did for There Will Be Blood; that was a nice one.
I usually don't like soundtracks because in the end I think we don't really need a soundtrack. The soundtracks I mentioned, I didn't really listen to them apart from while watching the film.
Which female artists are you listening to at the moment? Any standout records?
Well, I recently remixed La Fleur and Francesca Lombardo. I love Emika's music, Julia Govor, Nina Kraviz, Maya Jane Coles, Lady Blacktronika, and obviously there's also Tama Sumo, who I love very much as a DJ. I also really like Steffi, and Virginia, and Laura Jones.
Being that you had help from Electric Indigo, Miss Kittin, and Acid Maria while starting out, what advice that you would give to an aspiring female artist?
I would want to express how amazing and brave they are to do it, and that they should keep on doing it. And hopefully to not get sidetracked and keep the focus on why they're doing it. And to have fun with it, too. Don't give up.
Cassy plays Smart Bar's Daphne party alongside Honey Dijon on Saturday, March 25. Tickets available on Resident Advisor.